Carnegie Mellon University
May 12, 2017

Austin Webb Named One of Poets&Quants’ “Best & Brightest MBAs”

MBA candidate Austin Webb left a career in investment banking to “answer his calling” in entrepreneurship. His endeavor, RoBotany, has made waves using robotic technology to optimize the vertical farming industry.

Webb’s drive to create a transformative product placed him among Poets&Quants’ 50 “Best & Brightest MBAs” in the class of 2017, a distinguished “Honor Roll” featuring up-and-coming innovative MBAs across the nation.

“It’s an honor to have Poets&Quants recognize our efforts in this way,” Webb said. “I’m glad they found my story compelling enough to include me among the other amazing finalists.”

Founded in 2016, the software and robotics provided by RoBotany allows vertical farms to grow crops closer together — increasing output — and eliminate the time workers need to spend harvesting them.

“Labor is more than 40 percent of operating expenses, and over half of production space is lost due to extremely manual processes and wide aisles,” Webb said in a recent feature for Tepper Magazine. RoBotany has also been highlighted in Inc. Magazine as one of the 16 Coolest College startups earlier in March of this year.

RoBotany came to life through the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship’s incubator Project Olympus. Webb attributes CMU’s diverse campus opportunities as part of the collaboration which brought RoBotany to life.

“[My team] went across campus and took advantage of Carnegie Mellon’s top-ranked MSIT eBusiness Practicum course, where we had seven computer science students assist in the design and implementation of our software back-end,” Webb said. He also credits Tepper School’s network in capital funding assistance which brought in over $600,000 from firms founded by Tepper School alums.

“The entrepreneurship ecosystem at the Tepper School is the best in the world,” Webb told Poets&Quants, which is one of the reasons he left Washington, D.C. for Pittsburgh to work among the experts at Carnegie Mellon.

RoBotany brings together the minds of his brother, Brac Webb, an engineer from Virginia Tech with broad knowledge including user experience, software architecture and Internet of Things; Austin Lawrence, a robotics expert who came to RoBotany from his own agricultural technology startup focused on hydroponic farming, who has focused on the robotics and intellectual property for RoBotany from Northwestern University; and Webb’s MBA classmate Danny Seim rounds out the company’s founders with a focus on system engineering and operations, who Webb admires for his passion and work ethic.

“I have awesome co-founders,” Webb said. “They are the most brilliant engineers I’ve ever met.”

For his Poets&Quants profile, Webb identified the “legendary” Dave Mawhinney, executive director of the Swartz Center and associate teaching professor of entrepreneurship, as his favorite professor. “I am very grateful for what he taught me in class, as well as his continued mentorship outside the classroom.”

Mawhinney returns the admiration for his student: “Austin has worked hard and sacrificed to create real value,” he said. “I am so very fortunate to make great lifelong friends like him. It is what drives me every day.”

Webb is the second honoree among the Poets&Quants “Best & Brightest” list, following Samantha Grant, MBA ’16, who was named in last year’s list. This is the third year Poets&Quants has recognized MBA students in this unique way. The students are selected from submissions solicited from 60 high-ranking MBA institutions. Each nominee completes a questionnaire, from which the final list is evaluated for academic and leadership achievements, as well as compelling personal narratives.